“No, Aragorn, I will not have the house in which we live guarded.” Frodo’s expression was adamant as he clutched his goblet of water, his face notably paler than it had been since he and Sam had awakened. “It was bad enough in Ithilien--but here it would be too much. If living with Pippin, Merry, Legolas, Gimli, and Gandalf in the house is not guard enough, then that is too bad. But I will not live with the symbol of mistrust on my very doorstep.”
Aragorn sighed. It had been difficult to get Frodo to allow the guard on the enclosure in the camp in Cormallen; here it was plain Frodo would have nothing to do with the idea. At least the doors could be secured day or night, and there were guards to watch all who came up to the sixth level and who did not go further; they were relatively close in case any problems should occur.
“Nor do we need a page or a housekeeper....” the Hobbit continued.
“These are not to do all for you. But think, mellon nín; Merry and Pippin will be frequently gone, having to attend on Éomer and myself; during the first few weeks of my reign Gandalf will be asked to speak frequently with the Council and before the court and to aid in handling audiences with our former enemies; Legolas and Gimli have agreed to help assess the damage done within the city and to speak with the city’s architects, engineers, masons, gardeners, and so on as to help plan the rebuilding and refurbishing of the capitol; and you still tire far too easily; while you know as well as I that Sam will take on all responsibility for the upkeep of everything even when it is not of his doing and makes him uncomfortable and presses him to his limits. And I will have someone there to summon me if there is need.”
Sam looked from one to the other, and wondered which would cave first. Frodo was one of the most stubborn of a stubborn line with a bit too much Brandybuck and Took thrown into the mix for his satisfaction; but the fact remained that Strider could also be most stubborn when the mood took him. After all, he’d managed to finally become King after almost nine decades, and certainly that had taken much perseverance. The gardener also felt that the long day so far was working in the Man’s favor, for Frodo had eaten but twice and was fatigued, and was not in physical condition for a prolonged bout of wills.
The King continued, “I will agree to no guard at the door, but I will not countenance you yourself having to climb the ramp if your hand starts throbbing unmercifully during the day when you are alone. Nor will I have Sam leaving you should one of the worse nightmares take you during the night and Gandalf is busy elsewhere and there is no one else to send.”
“Who is to say there will be nightmares, Aragorn?”
Aragorn set his hand on Frodo’s left temple, felt the soft pulse there. His eyes were shadowed. “Small brother, there will be nightmares. I’ve been through the Dead Marshes, and stood by the Bridge of Khazad-dum and have fought orcs and wargs and trolls and have looked into the Palantir while he held another. There will be nightmares.”
This seemed to give Frodo pause. “You have them, too?”
The King’s laugh was humorless. “Have them, too? Of course I have them, too. No sane individual could begin to live through what this Fellowship has lived through, separately or together, and not have nightmares. That the reasons for mine are spread over nine decades while most of yours are from the last eight months only makes yours that much the worse. And I, at least, never had to carry that or feel It rip at my sanity and my soul constantly as you did.
“Realize this, Frodo Baggins--if anyone anywhere at any time ever had reason to have particularly vicious nightmares it is you. So far you have been able to utilize the power of the Elessar stone----”
Sam realized that Frodo had gone paler again.
Aragorn paused, watching Frodo’s face, his own suffused with compassion. “Did you think I could not tell, mellon nín? Or do you think that I care or mind that you do?”
Frodo looked away as he set down the goblet, his mouth working. Aragorn turned his face back. “Look at me, Frodo, please. I would give you the Elessar stone itself if it were allowed, but I may not. But, while you are here with me you are free to access it as much as you need, and with my blessing. How it is that you can do this I do not know; but that you can is plain to those who are accustomed to drawing power from other sources than their own reserves. It has taken me months to learn to utilize its abilities to focus my own; you began soon after your awakening. I cannot scour away all of the scarring that is there--it is too deep, too pervasive, and each time I touch you with the healing gift of my ancestry so much of it diffuses away from the wound or pain I purpose to ease; but if you can use the Elessar to recognize the nightmares and deal with them, do so and be fully welcome.” Gently he drew Frodo to him. “Oh, Frodo, if I could only take your burdens on myself, I would.”
“I’m sorry, Aragorn....”
“For what, Frodo? For being a gifted individual whom all love?”
Frodo gave no answer, merely pressed his forehead against Aragorn’s chest. Finally the Man sighed. “For now, Frodo, you need to rest and eat again, and soon. The house will not be fully open to you until this evening, for they are now moving the beds about in it that you, Sam, and Merry will be comfortable, and I sent Gandalf down to see to it things are as you would wish. They have furnished several rooms in the Royal Wing, in case I could convince you to remain near to hand. I’ve not even seen my own quarters. Will you go with me and see them and rest there for a time?”
A brief nod, and the Man nodded his own head, then gently, reluctantly released his embrace. At that moment there was a knock at the door to the smaller audience chamber to which the King had withdrawn with Frodo and Sam, and he looked up, slightly startled. After a moment of puzzlement Frodo gave a small, stifled laugh. “I think,” the Hobbit suggested, “they wait for you to tell them to enter. Or have you forgotten you are King now?”
The look of embarrassment on Aragorn’s face was swiftly masked. He gave Frodo a sidelong smile, then straightened. “Enter,” he said with just the right tone of authority in his voice.
Master Balstador entered, accompanied by a boy of about thirteen or fourteen, followed by Mistress Gilmoreth and a younger woman of about twenty-two. “My Lord,” the Seneschal said, with a bow, “you asked that we bring to you here one to serve as page and one as a housekeeper to those of your particular friends who will live in the guest house in the Sixth Circle, and we have brought two for your consideration. May I present Lasgon son of Efram and Mistress Loren daughter of Parmetrion, both of the city.”
“Thank you, Master Balstador, Mistress Gilmoreth. Mistress, will you have one bring here two trays, both with servings of sauce of apples, mild lamb or fowl, if it is to be had, greens, water and apple juice? Curds and whey would also be acceptable.”
“Gladly, my Lord King,” the woman said, curtseying deeply and retreating from the room.
The King examined the two who stood before him with interest. Finally he spoke. “I am, as you have been told, your new King. Those of my companions who have labored most strongly against Sauron have elected not to dwell here in the Citadel with me, but in a guest house in the Sixth Circle. I would have the two of you serve them as there is need. Mostly they will seek to do as much as they can for themselves and one another, you will find; but there will be times when they will need assistance, or to send one to call for me or to run errands through the city. You will find that all can and will usually prefer to cook for themselves; but should all be called on the business of the realm elsewhere during the day they will need to have meals awaiting them on their return, and may need to have things tidied at times. There will be the need to see to the laundering of clothes and linens on a weekly basis, assistance in shopping as they have no knowledge of which markets are best, help in reaching things from high cabinets, assistance in the managing of stoves and such as will be difficult for them due to height.
“There will be seven dwelling there--the four Periannath, a Dwarf, an Elf, and the Lord Mithrandir. Here are two of them, Master Frodo Baggins and Master Samwise Gamgee, who are from the Shire in Eriador and who are both recovering from their labors and wounds. They are to be treated with the gravest courtesy, that they bear good report of the city of Minas Tirith with them when at last they return to their homeland.
“It will be in many ways light duty, but know this--it is a duty dear to my heart. We eight and your Lord Boromir traveled far together and fought against the Enemy’s forces several times as we sought to bring him down. Each of the Periannath came to the gates of death as a result of their determination to do what was necessary to see his end, and I would have them well treated and served. Are the two of you willing to accept this duty?”
They looked to one another with question, and then back at their new Lord. “If you so desire, my Lord King,” the woman said.
The boy echoed, “Yes, my Lord.”
“Tell us about yourselves,” Aragorn invited. “Mistress Loren, have you worked in the Citadel long?”
“I have worked mostly in the keeping of the guest houses of the Sixth Circle, my Lord, for the past two years. My sister has served here in the Citadel itself for seven years, working among the housemaids. My brother does much of the maintenance of the Citadel, overseeing repairs, cleaning chimneys at regular intervals, replacing windowpanes and floor tiles, cleaning the gutters and replacing roofing tiles after storms, and so on.”
“And you, Lasgon?” asked the King, turning to the boy.
“My family has served the Citadel of Minas Tirith through eighteen generations, my Lord King, either in service within the Citadel or in the Guard of the Citadel. My adar is groundskeeper, and my daeradar was a Guard of the Citadel for twenty years. My mother serves in the archives. I hope to serve as a page until I reach the age of eighteen, at which time I wish to enter the Guard of the Citadel.”
“A worthy wish, sir,” the King responded. He examined both of them once more. “I would have at least one of you in the house at all times. How does your duty schedule run now, Lasgon?”
“I am here in the Citadel six days a week, my Lord, and sleep in the pages’ dormitory when I am not on duty. On the Highday I am freed from service after breakfast and go to spend the day with my mother, and return at the second hour on Starsday so as to be ready to return to duty at the third hour.”
“And your usual schedule, Mistress Loren?”
That the King himself was taking such an intimate interest in the scheduling of this duty plainly had the woman flustered, although she managed to remain calm and answer his questions. “Ordinarily I have the Moonday free, my Lord, and work from the first hour to sunset the rest of the week, then return to my family home in the Sixth Circle.”
“Would you be willing to sleep overnight in the guest house on the night of the Highday, Mistress Loren, and have two days free instead?”
“That would be acceptable, my Lord.”
“Good. Do you know which house has been chosen for this duty?”
“Yes, my Lord--the furthest house down at the end of Isil Lane.”
“Do any others live in the surrounding houses?
“Opposite is a large building that in the past has served the family of Lord Forlong of Lossarnach when here in the capitol, my Lord. However, his son has declared it to be too large and difficult to staff, and so he has given it back to the disposition of the Stew--of the Crown and has taken a smaller but more comfortable home of three stories in the Fifth Circle. It would be a goodly building for an embassy from one of our allies, my Lord. Next door lives a family which has served in either the Houses of Healing or the Citadel itself for thirty-seven generations, often both, as now.”
“There is at least one there who serves in the Houses of Healing?”
“Yes, my Lord, the Healer Eldamir, an excellent healer of great skill and compassion.”
The King was smiling, as were the two Pheriannath. “Healer Eldamir? Excellent! A gentle Man and a fully competent healer. I am well pleased, as he is already acquainted with Master Frodo and Master Samwise.”
“In the house next to the empty estate building live one of Lord Denethor’s personal guards and his wife. He, however, is now incapacitated as he suffered a brain storm a few days after the death of the Steward. He has been returned to his wife’s care, but he is not well and is said to be near death.”
“I see. I will try to visit him, then, on the morrow.”
Both Mistress Loren and Master Balstador looked completely confused. “But why would you visit him?” the woman blurted out, then flushed with embarrassment at her own forwardness.
The King, however, did not appear to take any offense. “In case you have not been made aware of this, Mistress, Master, I am a fully trained healer in my own right, and I labored in the Houses of Healing after the battle of the Pelennor and among the wounded from the battle before the Black Gate. The health and welfare of all who serve me and the realm of Gondor is of interest to me.
“And, Mistress Loren, Lasgon, you should be aware that not only are the Periannath you will serve during their stay in the city my close personal friends, but they have all been under my care for healing. I am to be apprised of any signs that any is suffering from physical discomfort, although you will find that they are likely to fight you on this. It is likely that either I or one of my Elven foster brothers will visit the house at least once or twice a day as we ascertain that all is well with our patients. And if any seeks to bind you to silence, I will remind you that also within the house will dwell the Wizard Mithrandir, who I assure you is going to support my opinion.”
There was a knock at the door, and the King called out, “Enter.” Mistress Gilmoreth entered with a young girl, each carrying a tray with covered dishes and goblets. “Very good. Mistress Gilmoreth, if you and your aide will set those before Masters Frodo and Samwise, we will all be grateful. And may I be introduced to the young lady?”
“Yes, my Lord; this is Airen daughter of Geril. She has only just joined our staff; her father died in the assaults on Osgiliath, and she had need to take service.”
“I see. Welcome to the staff of the Citadel, young Mistress.”
The girl made an embarrassed curtsey and gave a murmured “My Lord” as she flushed deeply.
The King smiled. “Do not be embarrassed, Mistress Airen; you will find I am quite approachable and do not complain when service is given well and honestly. Mistress Gilmoreth, if you will please advise the kitchen staff--my friends among the Periannath are from a race that requires more frequent meals than do Men, and will eat more at a meal, usually. However, in the case of Master Frodo, when he is within the Citadel he should be brought small meals on the hour, and usually light foods, light meats, fruit, juices, occasionally watered wine, and other foods of the sort. He and Master Samwise are to have water beside them whenever they are within the Citadel. Advise the kitchen staff that requirements for the Periannath will be forwarded to them shortly. When on duty Sir Meriadoc will be either serving Lord Éomer King of Rohan or standing honor guard before the tomb in which Théoden King’s body rests; Sir Peregrin will be a part of my personal guard.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“From the staff of this house I prefer to be addressed as my Lord, Sire, or Lord Elessar, although Lord Aragorn is also acceptable. I will usually eat in the household dining room or in my personal quarters, and my personal friends and guests will generally eat either with me or in their personal quarters.
“We will discuss this more in depth tomorrow.”
“Yes, my Lord.” The Seneschal and Housekeeper made their courtesies and departed swiftly, accompanied by young Airen. The King turned back to young Lasgon and Mistress Loren. “I hope that you don’t find all of this too confusing. However, you will find that my rule will be quite different from that of Lord Denethor.”
Mistress Loren smiled. “I can see, Lord Elessar.” She was honored when he smiled in return.
Frodo and Sam had lifted the covers off of their plates and had begun eating the food offered them. Sam ate well enough, but Frodo was eating more slowly and deliberately, as if forcing himself to swallow. Aragorn moved to where he sat on the low couch and knelt, then spoke to him quietly. The Pherian lifted his eyes to those of the King and answered, then began to smile gently in response, his expression easing. He ate more and then stopped. “That is all I can eat for now, Aragorn.”
“To know when it is all you can eat is important, Frodo.”
Frodo returned the lid to the dish with an air of finality. Then he looked up. “If I might lie down now....”
“We will go, then, and check out my own quarters, shall we?”
Once Samwise was done, he, too, covered his dish. “Shall I bear them away, Lord Strider?”
“No, Sam, you need only attend on Frodo for now, as we both know he rests best when you are by him.” He turned where the page and housekeeper waited. “Mistress Loren, if you will show young Master Lasgon here where you are to serve, and Master Lasgon, if you will take your personal items down to that house and move them into the upper room on the near side? Until those of the Fellowship choose to leave the city, that is your assignment. And I thank the both of you.”
Obviously if courteously dismissed, the two reverenced their new Lord, then stepped forward to each take one of the trays and left the room as Frodo and Sam stood and prepared to accompany their friend to the Royal Wing.